Mark Bauer has taught physical education for 27 years, played basketball in college and coached basketball at various levels, but he’s always seeking ways to improve as a teacher, coach and mentor.
So when the Gause Elementary School’s physical education (PE) specialist heard about the Trail Blazers PE Program, which provides equipment, activity guides and hands-on training to PE teachers with limited funding, he knew he had to apply.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity for me,” Bauer said. “I mean, this was a no-brainer.”
On Dec. 9, Bauer joined 39 other regional educators at the Trail Blazers PE training program at the Moda Center in Portland.
The program’s goal, according to the Trail Blazers PE Program’s website, is to help youth have positive experiences with basketball early on in their schooling.
Diana Cutaia of Coaching Peace Consulting, a Portland-based firm that collaborates with school districts and organizations to create positive cultures, led the basketball-focused training.
“The training I attended focused on how to better understand how to coach kids in basketball while creating a positive and safe learning environment,” Bauer said. “Diana did a great job of showing us activities that focus on skill development that I plan on using with my students.”
After the training, teachers received a Nike PE kit, consisting of balls, pennies and cones, and a digital activity guide.
“Since I have a limited budget to purchase equipment and curriculum, the (kit) is a blessing,” Bauer said. “The other cool thing was meeting all of the other teachers. It was interesting to hear how other people teach. I’m following a lot of them on Twitter, and we’re able to have conversations about different things, and they can help me to add to my tool box to further my skills. Overall, it was an awesome experience.”
Gause Principal Tami Culp said she appreciates Bauer’s willingness to seek out ways to enhance his work with the students.
“He seeks out partnerships, like this one with the Trail Blazers, and opportunities to learn that will pay off for the kids,” Culp said of Bauer. “He networks outside of the school to share ideas. He doesn’t just keep it at the Gause level. He’s a good mentor for other PE teachers in the district and a good staff member — a real team player. At staff meetings he makes decisions by looking through the lens of what’s best for kids, and that’s not the easiest thing to do.”
A life steeped in basketball
Bauer grew up in Ventura County, California, and starred for Temple Christian High School’s basketball squad before moving on to Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where he continued his basketball career and received two education degrees.
He then worked as a basketball coach and PE teacher at the College of the Redwoods, a community college in Eureka, California, and as an adaptive PE teacher at the Almansor Academy, a special education school in South Pasadena, California, before accepting a PE teaching position at Gause in 2007.
“My wife’s brother-in-law at the time was living in Fisher’s Landing (in Vancouver), and we came up here for Thanksgiving,” Bauer said. “We saw the area, and thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great place to raise a family.'”
Bauer was excited about the prospect of building Gause’s PE department, but immediately realized that he would face significant challenges.
“When I came in, there was hardly anything,” he said. “In a closet, there were some hockey sticks, adult tennis racquets, some tennis balls, jump-ropes that were falling apart and six or seven adult-sized basketballs. Not all of it was appropriate for elementary students. I was lucky that the principal at the time, Rex Larson, set aside $2,000 in the building budget for physical education. And over time, we’ve been able to add (more equipment and activities).”
Bauer has developed his program thanks to support from the Gause Elementary Booster Club, the Washougal School Foundation and the school’s annual Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser.
“And when I really need something, I pay for it out of my own pocket,” he said. “I probably spend between $100 and $300 a year.”
Culp said Bauer “brings a lot” to the school’s PE department.
“He works with kids to develop more skills than just the athletics piece,” she said. “He teaches the kids about teamwork and how to manage themselves and interact with others. You can see in his lessons that he’s knowledgeable about the PE standards, and the relationships that he builds with the students are obvious. He has structure in his program, and the kids respond well to that. He sets expectations, but he also (emphasizes) safety, learning and skill-building.”
However, recent budget cuts at the school district level have hampered Bauer’s ability to add to his curriculum.
“During the last couple years, I haven’t had much of a budget to purchase equipment — maybe $150 a year. That might buy me three or four basketballs,” he said. “On an average day, I see 250 to 300 kids. The equipment takes a beating over the years, and it has to be replaced. That’s a challenge.”
Bauer has overcome that challenge by creating activities students can perform in groups of two or more.
“I have to be creative with my drills,” he said. “I always want to make sure the students are getting as many repetitions as possible for (maximum) skill development. And we focus a lot on social development — working with partners, sharing, taking turns. Those things are more appropriate for this age level.”
Culp said Bauer “doesn’t let funding limit him in what he can do.”
“Mark seeks out other avenues for support, and he uses a lot of collaborative learning processes,” she said. “Maybe not every kid has a piece of equipment, but they learn to share and get more out of the lesson than they would’ve if they all had their own (equipment) all the time.”